"Get that boy outta your head, girl," Mama hisses, but Lenore has no intention of listening.
Albert is everything a girl like her - a Sutler of the Philadelphia Sutlers, a well-educated young lady - should disdain. Her friends certainly do, as they whisper about Albert's rough speech, his demeanor not even one generation removed from the cotton fields. Enid and Pauline and Vernetta titter over the man whenever they pass his shop on Girard Ave on their way to the trolley, leave Lenore in a flurry of skirts as she lingers by the window.
A carpenter. An utterly inappropriate gentleman for someone of her station to even speak to, and yet something keeps Lenore coming back. Oh, she isn't blind, Albert is quite handsome, but if that were all she was looking for, she would be courting any number of beaux. A lawyer, like Edmund Washington, perhaps, or Cornelius Baxter, a doctor like Daddy.
Daddy thinks she has her mind on two things, books and beaux, because she studies hard at Girls' High and she's been stepping out with Sam Woodell. Lenore doesn't particularly want to dissuade him of that, so she makes sure she only stops by the carpentry shop on her way home from school.
The business itself fascinates her, not just the man who works there. She studies how the workers shape the wood, coax it into the familiar shapes of table, wardrobe, rocking chair. It's like nothing she's ever fashioned herself, not like stitching a sampler or copying a poem. The workers must be physically strong as well as possess the skills with tools, and she loves watching them work. She peers in through the back window at 3:15 pm every day.
It's those ten minutes when the workers finish up work and then take their afternoon smoke break.
It's then that she gets to see Albert.
Pauline always goes with her. She claims it's because she doesn't want Lenore to have all the fun, but it's more about the way Mr. Martin raises his hand to his kids and drinks too much gin for a preacher. About how Pauline wants to be married so badly, she says she'll accept the first proposal she gets. They never speak of it, of course, that wouldn't be proper.
The buzzer sounds, signaling break time, and the workers come streaming out, five of them in total. Their language is harsh, rough, so different from the cultured tones of her father and her other beaux. She'd thought it slave cadence, once, before Wendell (one of the older carpenters, a bearded man tall as an oak) set her straight. Now she listens for the sly nuance, wrinkles her nose through the profanities until all the chatter suddenly dies.
"Now, what you two little sweethearts doing here?" That's Burley, aptly named and stinking of chewing tobacco. "Your daddies know where you at?"
Pauline smiles and sashays over, "Why, you wanna go tell him with me?"
Lenore stays by the fence, quiet. She doesn't particularly like talking to them, the way they always cackle and tug her braids, would rather just watch them through the window. She can pretend, back there, that she isn't behaving improperly. Let Pauline flirt and sass, be the one everyone looks at.
"Back again?" The voice comes from behind her, and she jumps about a foot, hand on her heart. Albert leans against the sun-soaked brick like it won't burn him. "Careful, Miss Sutler, or I'll start thinkin' you're sweet on me."
"Mr. White-" she begins, but he shakes his head.
"Albert. Mr. White was my daddy, and I ain't see him nowhere 'round here."
It comes out a little mousy squeak, and she could shake herself. What's she scared of him for? "Albert. Good afternoon."
"Oh, is that how we playin' it? Well then, good afternoon, Miss Sutler. Fine day out here on the Avenue, ain't it?"
"It is. Enough to make one wish for a day off work to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine."
It's more than she's ever spoken to him before, and she dares to speak a little louder, watch him a little more brazenly. His smile is wide - like and unlike those of the other men - and he seems so sure in his skin. Enough to maybe rub off on her, if she tries hard enough.
"What you gonna do, then," he asks, "with such a fine afternoon? You surely ain't gon' spend it all with me."
"I have a piano lesson," Lenore admits. "In three quarters of an hour."
"Fancy," Albert comments.
She thinks he's going to turn around and leave when he stubs out his cigarette on the ground, when the bell rings to signal the end of the break, but he steps closer and smiles again at her.
"I'm fixin' to hear you play someday, Miss Lenore. You know 'Sweet Violets'?"
The blush feels like it's going to burst forth from her cheeks, catch fire in the spring air, and she turns her face down to study her shoes. That song is completely inappropriate, too risque for anywhere but dance halls (not that she's familiar with such places). Certainly unlike any of the music she plays, concertos and adagios and sonatas.
"No," she says. "My daddy - he doesn't allow me to listen to such music."
Albert's smile tugs her gaze up, and there is no allure in it for once. Just a surprising amount of sweetness and warmth.
"If I was your husband," Albert says, "I'd let you listen to any music you liked."
Three years later, when she's graduated from Girls' and Albert has risen to foreman at the carpenter's, she disobeys her father for the first and only time: she accepts Albert's proposal.
He has dreams, he says, of owning a fine house and making money like white people do. Buying her fancy dresses and beautiful furniture and paintings, anything she wants. And she can't help but believe that it will come to pass. Albert seems to know everyone, from all walks of life, can speak as easily with dockworkers and ditch diggers as he does with bosses and lawyers.
He isn't perfect - far from it. He'll never feel at home around her family or possess any sort of table manners. He uses vulgar language and laughs at her discomfort. But she took marriage vows, for better or for worse, richer or poorer, and she'll love him even if they never get any further than a tiny house on Spring Garden Street and that carpentry shop on Girard Avenue.
Money keeps coming, though, as do children. They have Lester, and Albert decides it's time for a fresh start in Atlantic City. Maybelle arrives when Albert becomes "Chalky", starts allying himself with men in power with the last name of Thompson. By the time Adeline is born, she's found herself married to the most influential black man in Atlantic City.
Of course, with the better comes the worse, and Lenore is beginning to see all the things her husband tries to hide from her. Men begin dying around him, there are whispers of liquor importation and the Ku Klux Klan.
She never does learn to play "Sweet Violets", but her son will be going to Howard University and her husband has kept his promise.